Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2009

TRENT FRANKS' SHORT MEMORY.... Six years ago this month, the floor of the U.S. House was the scene to one of the more embarrassing moments in the history of the institution. It was when the Republican majority brought Medicare Part D up for a vote.

GOP lawmakers saw Medicare's long-term finances as a problem, and decided to make matters worse with a new drug benefit. Every penny of the program -- which costs hundreds of billions of dollars -- was simply thrown onto the deficit, and Republicans were deliberately lied to about the cost (the Bush administration literally threatened officials who considered telling Congress the true price tag).

When the vote was scheduled, the bill was defeated -- so GOP leaders kept the vote open for hours, bribing members to change their minds. Humiliated, Republicans demanded that the C-SPAN cameras be turned off, so Americans couldn't watch the soul-crushing antics.

Bruce Bartlett reflects on this today, calling it "one of the most extraordinary events in congressional history." Of particular interest is Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, one of just three Republicans who were convinced to switch their votes, from Nay to Aye.

Like all Republicans, [Franks] has vowed to fight [health care reform] with every ounce of strength he has, citing the increase in debt as his principal concern. "I would remind my Democratic colleagues that their children, and every generation thereafter, will bear the burden caused by this bill. They will be the ones asked to pay off the incredible debt," Franks declared on Nov. 7.

Just to be clear, the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway with a gross cost greater than either the House or Senate health reform bills how being considered. Together the new bills would cost roughly $900 billion over the next 10 years, while Medicare Part D will cost $1 trillion.

Moreover, there is a critical distinction -- the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit, whereas the health reform measures now being debated will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, adding nothing to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Maybe Franks isn't the worst hypocrite I've ever come across in Washington, but he's got to be in the top 10 because he apparently thinks the unfunded drug benefit, which added $15.5 trillion (in present value terms) to our nation's indebtedness, according to Medicare's trustees, was worth sacrificing his integrity to enact into law. But legislation expanding health coverage to the uninsured -- which is deficit-neutral -- somehow or other adds an unacceptable debt burden to future generations. We truly live in a world only George Orwell could comprehend when our elected representatives so easily conflate one with the other.

It's easy to forget -- some of us would like to block the memories from our minds -- but the Republican majority in Congress from 2003 through 2006 was so comically awful, it made many reasonable observers question whether the American experiment was really a good idea. The vote on Part D was a genuine embarrassment to the institution.

With that in mind, seeing Franks whine now, after having switched his vote six years ago, is a reminder of the ridiculous amount of chutzpah some of these members have. Just shameless.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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And yet, from a pure power politics point of view, doesn't this incident stand as an example of the Republicans as an effective party and the Democrats as well-meaning bumblers? The Republican leadership was able to deliver. It's sad to think that they were able to pass a bill that had so much wrong with it over the objections even of their own people, but the Forces of Good has to count their blessings when Ben Nelson decides they might be allowed to debate their bill after all.

I mean, yeah, the GOP is a bunch of lying, hypocritical sons and daughters of Satan, but, damn, they could get things they wanted DONE.


Posted by: biggerbox on November 20, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Reasonable observers question whether the American experiment was really a good idea...

Phenomenal story Steve...
Hopefully Oprah will cover it soon...

Posted by: koreyel on November 20, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican majority of 2003-2006 convinced me that American voters were morons. It is the Democratic majority of 2006-2009 that makes me question whether the American experiment was really a good idea. It's one thing for the government to fail to function when a bunch of wackos are put in control of it. It's another when the government fails to function after the voters put the good guys in.

Our federal government is so poorly designed, and our political culture so rotten, that an entirely new government structure requiring a different party structure is needed.

Posted by: Mark on November 20, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Benen - your use of the descriptor craven should not be exclusive to your post on Sen. Coburn, but rather applied to the entire Congressional Republican roster of irrational obstructionists! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 20, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

for what it's worth, C-SPAN doesn't run the cameras. The House Recording Studio has its own cameras/cameramen (3 floors down, w/joysticks & remote control cameras) which are fed to the press gallery where C-SPAN picks it up. The major distinction this makes it that as a government produced work, the footage is public domain. C-SPAN maintains over work their cameramen record (though allow some reuse under a relaxed non-commercial license). Republicans would, afaik, had to have acted through the house rules committee to shut off the cameras.

Posted by: aphid on November 20, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who has looked at the history of politics in Arizona - I think it's actually impossible to count all the politicians who went to jail there - would say Franks is just operating in the tradition of "the family" (as in the Sporanos-style "family.")

Posted by: TCinLA on November 20, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

the Republican majority in Congress from 2003 through 2006 was so comically awful, it made many reasonable observers question whether the American experiment was really a good idea.

Hear, hear! Though accurate, "comically awful" is a generous assessment. We could add "tragically incompetent, craven, colossally embarrassing, morally depraved and unfit for office" to the list, and that still wouldn't scratch the surface!

Posted by: electrolite on November 20, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's past strange that Franks should end up a militant against health care reform. Having been born amid uranium tailings, he was burdened in early life w/ very serious health problems. It's part of his official story that he overcame them through grit & the kindness of doctors. But somehow the lesson he draws from his gruesome experience is that other people shouldn't be assured the medical care they need. One doesn't want to exploit his misfortune for political purposes, but it's hard not to conclude that hypocrisy, or denial, runs deep in his bones.

Posted by: K on November 20, 2009 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

I've quite a few of the liberal blogs describing the ironic behavior of Republican legislators as "chutzpah". But, that could be a mistake. Chutzpah may technically be an act of shameful boldness or arrogance. But I think that common usage has made it appear to be something closer to a "very big act of boldness"... and consequently, a good personal characteristic, or at least something that generates pride.

What these legislators are doing, moving from shameless borrow-and-spenders during Bush II, to shameless critics of federal debt during Obama, is probably better described as "effrontery"... or something more sinful.

Posted by: Jim G on November 20, 2009 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Once again we have a great example of the Republican's inability to maintain any morals or ethics. They should all be ashamed of themselves.
But they won't.

Posted by: mishanti on November 20, 2009 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

My question is: why aren't Democrats slamming Republican hypocrisy at every opportunity? When a Republican filibusters a judicial nominee, why doesn't a Democrat remind them how, when Bush was in office, the threat of a Democratic filibuster was making a mockery of the Constitution? When a Republican makes a complaint about the deficit, why doesn't a Democrat point out the soaring deficits produced under Reagan and the Bushes? Why can't the charge that Republicans are liars, hypocrites and charlatans be made to stick?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on November 20, 2009 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK



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